Excellent Food for Thought in Beef 509

Allen Gahler, Extension Agent, ANR, Fairfield County

Whether you choose to interpret this title to mean that Beef 509 offered plenty of protein-packed, value-added eating opportunities, or that it offered entre after entre of practical, intellectually stimulating lessons on the beef industry, you would be correct. And as part of the well-planned event, most of the eating opportunities were actually utilized as educational components to the course!

In case you are wondering just how the average steak dinner can be made into a practical lesson that participants would remember, all that is needed is a little entertainment value. Dr. Henry Zerby, OSU extension specialist in meat science used a little entertainment during the first evening of the 3-day short course to not only teach a lesson, but gather data for OSU research. At the end of the serving line for the dinner were two pans of freshly grilled steaks, each labeled for future reference. I chose a steak from the second pan, as they appeared slightly less done, thinking that maybe the difference in the two pans was simply the amount of time spent on the grill. Little did I know that the reason for the first pan appearing overcooked was that the steaks in the first pan were marbled (contained intramuscular flecks of fat) so well and were so juicy that they created grease fires during the grilling. At about the time that everyone was halfway done eating their chosen steak, Dr. Zerby asked us to fill out the survey on our tables regarding the steaks and then explained the differences while encouraging us to go back and get a steak from the first pan. It turned out the steaks in the first pan were taken from Angus sired steers that were part of a tenderness study. The aging of beef carcasses – hanging them in the cooler for any period of time – has been shown through previous research to greatly influence tenderness of the meat. Since the aging process allows for the degradation of protein particles and other scientific processes that I’m sure Dr. Zerby would be glad to explain, a longer aging time generally yields more tender meat. Most packers age their carcasses 10 – 14 days before fabrication. The steaks found in the first pan for this experiment were aged for 28 days, and as already mentioned, out of angus sired calves, meaning they stood a good chance of better than average marbling. The result – one of the most tender, juicy steaks I have ever eaten. So while their tenderness study was yielding positive results, those of us who began with a typical crossbred steer or heifer steak from the second pan were finding out first hand how important the aging process is for a quality eating experience, since those steaks were aged only 1 day, and my steak ate more like a thick slice of beef jerky!

Not every lesson taught during the course was done so in an entertaining manner, but the easy going approach by instructors and the amount of hands on tasks made most of the activities a definite chance to learn. As a 2000 graduate of OSU with a major in animal science and an emphasis on beef production, I was not sure how much more I could really learn from the professors whose classes I occasionally attended just over 2 years ago. And I admit I was skeptical about signing up for the course because I figured I had already been through most of the course content while in college, but colleagues convinced me that as a new extension agent, going through the course would allow me to pick up on a few things and learn some methodology for teaching similar subject matter to my clientele. Meaning no disrespect to the professors or program in which I was formally educated, it turns out that I gained a wealth of knowledge over those three days, finding several pieces of information that I did not encounter in college, as well as experiencing a more practical way of learning, with many informal but effective settings that could not be duplicated in a college classroom. On top of all this, one of the most rewarding parts of the course was taking it with other beef producers and industry personnel from around the state. Whether talking to them about their operations, or listening to the different view points on industry issues during a panel discussion, a wide array of information was passed around amongst participants.

I’m not sure if I learned more through my group’s purchase of a Holstein steer in a simulated auction, during the fabrication of our carcass, or during the panel discussion with OSU professors and extension personnel portraying industry personnel, but I do know that after my experience, I would highly encourage anyone who has anything to do with the beef industry to enroll in this course next year. Whether you have a struggling or successful operation, a high school education or a degree in agriculture, 500 cows or an office job marketing beef, the students, faculty, and staff in the OSU Animal Science department and the Ohio Cattleman’s Association staff will not only provide you with food to eat, but a feast for thought.